Or put another way, is there any limit to how small or poorly attended a Tea Party rally can be before the press finally stops showering the right-wing movement with coverage? Based on the avalanche of reporting that yesterday's minuscule Tea Party rally in Washington, D.C., generated, the answer appears to be, no.
Just how sparse was the Tea Party crowd? A Bloomberg dispatch tactfully noted the rally attracted "dozens" of supporters.
I realize the fact that many high-profile members of Congress were scheduled speak at the Thursday rally meant it was going to be covered regardless, that there was an automatic news hook in place regardless of the Tea Party turnout.
But still, it's long past time that reporters and pundits started telling the truth about the incredibly shrinking Tea Party movement in America. And it's time members of the press corps asked themselves why they continue to cover Tea Party events that draw "dozens." (I guarantee you that if Media Matters promoted a rally in the nation's capital and invited members of Congress to speak, there would be a hell of a lot more than "dozens" of supporters. I can also guarantee you most news organizations would not cover the event.)
Remember, this is supposed to be a grassroots movement, which means one of the newsworthy angles is that so many Americans are supposedly getting involved in the Tea Party initiative. But if the party calls for a major Washington, D.C., rally and promises to have members of Congress addressing the crowd, but only "dozens" show up? That in and of itself is news. (i.e. What's become of the Tea Party?)
Of course, the wheels actually came off the Tea Party's grassroots movement a long time ago. Flashback: Activists predicted 3-4,000 Tea Party faithful would flock to Philadelphia last summer to hear Andrew Breitbart address the masses. Except only one-tenth of that bothered to show up.
How many disappointing rallies with crowds numbering in the low hundreds does the Tea Party have to suffer through before the press acknowledges there's no there there?
In terms of yesterday's coverage, I thought The Atlantic and Slate got it about right with their headlines, "Some, But Not Many, Tea Partiers Rally on Capitol Hill" and "The Tea Party Comes to D.C., in Small Numbers, On Message," respectively. And other news outlets, such as CBSNews.com, at least made it plain in their articles that the rally turnout was surprisingly (shockingly?) small.
Others, though, camouflaged that fact. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, politely made no references to miniature Tea Party crowd size in its report. And of course, neither did Fox News. Its online dispatch mentioned the "energized" and "boisterous" crowd. Missing from the report? The fact that the rally attracted dozens of supporters.
Whenever Fox News is in the mood to pretend that its "fair and balanced" slogan is anything more than a punchline, it resorts to drawing distinctions between its "straight news" and "opinion" broadcasts -- distinctions that are, basically, phony.
Still, given how frequently Fox pretends to take seriously the differences between news and opinion, it's amusing how frequently Fox obscures those differences when it suits their partisan needs.
Take this Fox Nation item, for example:
Click through and you'll find an excerpt from an "article" declaring that Christie "like Ronald Reagan before him, has an uncanny ear for what troubles Americans" and insisting that "super-slick Obama" has "enraged so many Americans."
That sounds more like an opinion column than a news report -- but Fox Nation goes out of its way to present it as an objective news article:
Notice the lack of a byline? The link at the end referring to the "full article" -- article, not column?
Well, if you actually do click through to the original "article" you find that it is, in fact, a column by right-wing activist Kevin Hassett, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
Fox's portrayal of an opinion column by a conservative AEI employee as a straight news article is not only deeply dishonest, it also makes a mockery of the cable channel's insistence that people not conflate its (purportedly) neutral news reporting with its opinion shows.
According to a report in The Guardian, Rupert Murdoch – chairman of News Corp, the parent company of Fox News – has "paid out more than £1m (about $1.6 million) to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists' repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories."
Fair and balanced (and illegally obtained?)
Romenesko summarized the sordid story:
...Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper subsidiary paid about $1.6 million to settle court cases involving allegations that its reporters worked with private investigators to hack into numerous public figures' cellphones. Murdoch tells Bloomberg News that's news to him. "If that had happened, I would know about it."
Numerous media figures have compared President Obama and his administration to the mafia, frequently referencing films and television shows such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos.
Print media have uncritically quoted Republican senators criticizing congressional Democrats' decision to use the budget reconciliation process to advance health-care reform and education initiatives as overly partisan, without noting that congressional Republicans -- including the senators quoted -- voted to allow the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass major Bush administration initiatives.
Several media outlets have asserted that AIG's payment of controversial employee-retention bonus packages could squelch or impede President Obama's ability to promote his policy agenda. Most of those reporting the claim failed to elaborate on how disclosure of the bonuses could impede Obama's ability to pass aspects of his agenda such as health-care reform and climate change policy.
In a March 6 news article headline, Bloomberg referred to the "Obama Bear Market," and The Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed on the same day with the headline "Obama's Radicalism is Killing the Dow." In fact, the market has been on a decline since October 2007, and, as the Financial Times' Dan McCrum said, "it's the economy which is driving the market down here" and that "what's important is that President Obama doesn't try to address that in the short term. He's quite right that short-term market movements aren't -- shouldn't be driving government policy. What he needs to do is concentrate on fixing the economy, and the market will sort itself out."
Bloomberg columnist Caroline Baum asserted that "[a]s the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee," before he became chairman in 2007, Rep. Barney Frank "consistently opposed stricter regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac." In fact, Frank has supported legislation to strengthen oversight over Fannie and Freddie, both as ranking member and as chairman. Further, Frank advocated for "a bill that would have enhanced the regulatory structure for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac" during a hearing from which Baum quoted in the column.
Bloomberg uncritically quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell criticizing the economic recovery plan as being neither "timely, targeted nor temporary," but did not point out that McConnell voted in support of a proposed amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint that would replace the recovery bill entirely with permanent tax cuts, some of which DeMint has called "broad based."
The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore and Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly promoted the falsehood -- which first appeared in a Bloomberg "commentary" by Betsy McCaughey and was subsequently promoted by Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge -- that the economic recovery bill includes a provision that would, in Moore's words, "hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments." Limbaugh later took credit for spreading this story.
Rush Limbaugh repeated a falsehood in a Bloomberg "commentary" by Betsy McCaughey that claimed that under a provision in the House-passed economic recovery bill, "[o]ne new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and 'guide' your doctor's decisions." In fact, the provisions McCaughey referenced address establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have information about their patients "to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care."
In a Bloomberg News article headlined "Obama Faces Rebellion From Democrats on Stimulus, Nominations," the only evidence cited in the article of "rebellion from Democrats" on President-elect Obama's "nominations" was that Sen. Dianne Feinstein "said she hadn't been consulted on the pick" of Leon Panetta for CIA director "and preferred a CIA director with more experience in intelligence," and that Rep. John Conyers "took aim at reports that Obama is considering naming CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta as surgeon general." In fact, Feinstein reportedly stated that she was "going to vote for" Panetta. And as a member of the House of Representatives, Conyers will not have a vote on Gupta's confirmation.
On Hardball, Chris Matthews cited a Politico article as purported evidence that "zero -- count 'em, zero Southerners have been named to the Obama Cabinet so far," and a Bloomberg article similarly asserted that Obama's Cabinet is lacking in Southerners. These claims either ignore or discount Obama's selection of Lisa Jackson, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates.
The Boston Globe uncritically reported Sen. John McCain's false claim that Sen. Barack Obama proposes to "fine" small businesses that do not provide employee health insurance. While Obama has proposed requiring large businesses that do not provide employer-sponsored health coverage to pay a percentage of their payroll into a National Health Insurance Exchange to help Americans purchase private health insurance, small businesses would be exempt.
The AP reported that Sen. John McCain "won admiration from Hispanics -- for co-sponsoring an immigration bill that included a path to citizenship" while a Bloomberg article reported that McCain "bucked his party by pushing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants." However, neither article noted that McCain reversed himself on border security and said he would no longer support the bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Edward Kennedy if it came up for a vote in the Senate.